Google+ hangouts have many benefits for a library or information service, and I thought it was time to take a little more of a look at what the functionality is, together with ways in which it can be used.
So - first steps - what exactly is a Google+ hangout? I'm presuming that you have at least a passing vague understanding of Google+ - their take on social media networking; if you've got a Google account then you'll already have a G+ account (just click on the little +YourName in the top left hand corner of the black Google bar that appears on the screen when you're using Google functionality. A 'hangout' is simply a way that you can have of chatting with up to 10 colleagues, real time, via video. It's rather like Skype on speed if you will, and it's the rather bigger, cleverer brother of the Johnny come lately Facebook video chat option which only works one to one.
In order to get the most out of the system you do need to have a webcam attached, and a microphone. You'll very often find that the webcam already has a microphone inbuilt, or if you do need to purchase the components seperately they're not going to cost more than a few pounds each from your local supermarket. If you have a laptop of not even particularly recent vintage you'll probably find that you already have everything that you need without having to do anything at all. Even if you don't know where the software is, your computer will be able to figure all of that out by itself.
On every page of G+, over on the right hand side, you'll see something that looks like this:
You can give the hangout a name, see who is already online from a list of your circle contacts, you can see what you look like in the screen below, and when you're ready, you can just click 'Hang out' and you're up and running. That's all that there is to it - it's so simple it's actually painful. You can mute both microphone and camera if you need or want to, and you can exit at any time. If you are already viewing one of your circles, they'll get to see a message that you're 'hanging out' (yes, the terminology makes me cringe as well, but what can we do?) and you can also invite other people as well, simply by starting to type their name. If you don't want that particular circle, you can delete it, so you have complete control over whoever you ask.
When you first start your hangout you'll have a screen that looks like this: